Thursday, May 6, 2010

I am posting my Pastor's Congregational Letter for the month. I attend the Vineyard in Columbus, Ohio. The Lord has been talking to me about making choices and especially about making the right choices in every day life. He's been teaching me and counseling me about how little choices we make every single day, makes up who we are at the end; it ultimately molds our life and our lifestyle. If any of you have looked around at your life and your circumstances and wondered about how you got to be where you are now, whether good or bad, it's largely due to the little, tiny choices we made along the way. I hope you get to read this article and be blessed!

What Makes Us Human?
Rich Nathan's Congregational Email (May 2010)

Perhaps you have heard different sayings about what separates us from the animals. Is it our ability to laugh? Is it our knowledge of our own mortality? Or is it the fact that we cover our nakedness?
Homer Simpson, the fount of all wisdom, said this to his children: "Weaseling out of things is important to learn. It is what separates from the animals...except the weasel."
Other much brighter people have weighed in on what makes human beings unique. For example, Bill Cosby said: "Human beings are the only creatures on earth that allow their children to come back home."
Albert Einstein said: "Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe."
You don't have to be a biologist to see how closely apes resemble people. If you look at a gorilla in a zoo scratching himself, you might say, "Hey! He looks like my Uncle Vinnie." We know that human beings and chimpanzees share 99% of the same genetic material. We also know that there are significant differences. Most of us, other than a few friends of mine, have less hair on our bodies than a chimp or a gorilla. Our brains, in general, are much larger. Our faces are different. The size of our teeth and the shape of our jaws are different. We human beings have opposable thumbs. We also have many more sweat glands.
But what makes us essentially different than chimps or gorillas? I believe that the main distinctive of being human is the power to choose.
Viktor Frankl was a Jewish neurologist and psychiatrist in Vienna, Austria before WWII. He, along with his wife and his parents, was deported to a concentration camp in 1942. His wife, father and mother were murdered in different camps. Viktor Frankl was the lone survivor.
While Frankl was in a concentration camp he developed a philosophy of life that became the foundation of his psychiatric practice after the war. Frankl discovered that even in the most brutal situations in life, human beings have a choice regarding how they will respond. Here is what he wrote:
We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.
And there were always choices to make. Every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom; which determined whether or not you would become the plaything of circumstance, renouncing freedom and dignity to become molded into the form of the typical inmate...Or instead to decide what will become of you mentally and spiritually.
I believe that the gift of choice is a large part of what it means to be created in the image of God. In creation God placed our first parents in a garden filled with a multitude of choices. We read in Genesis 2:15-17: The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will certainly die." The capacity to choose for or against God, the capacity to choose the road we're on, and the capacity to significantly choose our destiny are what makes us human.
Pastor Erwin McManus, in his book titled Seizing Your Divine Moment, made this observation: "The most spiritual activity you will engage in today is making choices." In other words, the most spiritual activity that you and I will engage in is likely not those activities that we commonly call spiritual - prayer, worship, or taking communion. We can do all of those activities for the wrong reasons - to make ourselves look good in front of other people; to gain brownie points with God; to feel good about ourselves, etc. But what is really spiritual are our choices.
Every day we have the choice to say something or not to say something. We have the choice to let go of bitterness or to harbor a grudge. We have the choice to spend our time watching television, or, instead, to visit someone in a hospital. We have the choice regarding how we are going to use our money - to buy another shirt for our already-over-stuffed closet, or rather, to buy two mosquito nets in order to keep two kids in Africa from getting malaria.

It is choice, according to Viktor Frankl, that determines how full a life you and I are going to live, not circumstance as is commonly believed. Circumstance determines the size of the box that we are placed in. We don't always get to pick our own opportunities. We don't get to pick our gifts, or our talents. We don't always get to pick how healthy we will be. But in the box that life and God place us in, choice determines how much of the box to occupy. Choice asks us whether we retreat into a corner in fear or whether we, in faith, explore the entire box of our lives. Choice asks whether we close ourselves off to new relationships because of past hurt, or open ourselves to new possibilities through forgiveness.
The richness of our lives and, indeed, our essential humanity primarily comes down to choice, not circumstance. My encouragement to you is this: respect the power that God has given you - the power to choose. Choose well!


  1. Very well written article..little choices we make every day sure makes a difference! Certain decisions can make you or break choose wisely..A great advice someone told me 10 years ago..:)

  2. A simple truth, but what a powerful one!!! You are so blessed that you learned this earlier in life than most! Thank you for sharing :)